Keene farm boy invented trend-setting early car
An ingenious farmer from Keene is credited with inventing Canada’s first car the 903 Redpath Messenger
The Redpath Messenger has a place of honour in the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa, and is the car pictured on the museums letter head. It was invented by Walter Redpath of Keene. Ruth (Redpath) Kitchen grand daughter of the inventor, lives within a few miles of the farm on the 5th line of Otonabee where Walter Redpath was born and grew up. Several of the descendants live in the Keene area, although none on the original homestead, says Mrs. Kitchen. Already a dedicated tinkerer and metal worker Walter Redpath left the family farm in his teens and moved to Omemee where he opened a machine shop and foundry with a Capt. Evans. The red brick building built about 1879, on the south-west corner of King and Mills streets was known as the Evans and Redpath foundry and Machine Factory. It has since been torn down. In the late 1800s he moved to Berlin (now known as Kitchener) where he Formed the Redpath Motor Vehicle Company in partnership with Andrew Reid of Toronto. Mr. Reid was responsible for the design of the car body and Mr. Redpath developed the engine and other mechanical parts of the car.
The Redpath Messenger had a one cylinder engine and had a top speed of 10 miles an hour. It weighed about 650 pounds says Mrs. Kitchen and in 1903 sold for between $600 and $700. Most of the cars at the time had a chain drive, but the messenger had a shaft drive, and two transmissions. It also had a tilt steering wheel, believed to be the first in the automobile industry. In 1903, Mr. Olds of Detroit paid a visit to the company to compare notes. He had just organized the Oldsmobile Company to make a one-cylinder car with a chain drive. The Redpath Motor Vehicle Company had trouble getting skilled labour, says Mrs. Kitchen, and eventually it folded. The company made several cars before collapsing in 1905.
The Robinson Company from Oshawa, which supplied the bodies, tops and fitting, took over and began building the cars. They only completed three when the factory was destroyed by fire. The car in the museum is one of the originals made in Kitchener. Walter Redpath moved to Toronto where he continued with his inventions, and Mrs. Kitchen remembers visiting her grandparents’ home when he was testing his latest invention, an “invested oil burner” He kept dashing down to the basement to see if it was OK, and “I was scared stiff – I was just sure it was going to blow up!” Mrs. Kitchen recalls.
Mrs. Kitchener grew up in Toronto, often travelling to the Keene area to visit relatives there, and she and her husband, also an inventor, moved to Hastings to retire a few years ago. It’s more or less co-incidence they live a few miles from the old family homestead, she says, but its fun having cousins in the area.
The Redpath Messenger is still operational in spite of being 90 years old. The Kitchen family got a letter a few years ago from the General Manager of the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa where, where it is on display “You will be pleased to know that our mechanic only this morning took one turn of the crank and the motor came to life. This is the first time in many years that this car has run and it was an exciting moment for us all. The museum is at 99 Simcoe Street South in Oshawa.
Written by Janet Baal, Examiner Lifestyles Editor 1980
Photos of Redpath Messenger
Rob Hopkins (Great Great Grandson of Walter Redpath) and Redpath Messenger at Canadian Automotive Museum – Oshawa, Ontario
Redpath from front with hood removed
Redpath side with horn
Redpath with Fat Man™ Tilt steering
Redpath with shaft drive
Redpath running gear
Details of Transmission
Oshawa auto museum gets one of a kind car
Oshawa – A Canadian built automobile, the only one of its kind in the world has become part of the permanent collection of the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa
The 1903 Redpath Messenger, built by the late Alfred H. Robinson, was donated to the museum by his family. The car which has been designated cultural property by the federal government was built in Kitchener.
The Redpath Motor Vehicle Company was started by two Torontonians, William Redpath and Andrew Reid, in 1902. Robinson’s company supplied bodies, tops and fittings for Redpath until 1905 when the Kitchener operation folded. Robinson then took over the company and began building cars at 160 Duke St. in Toronto. He had completed three when the factory was destroyed by fire in 1907. Robinson moved to Oshawa to become assistant superintendent of the body division of the McLaughlin Motor Car Company, which later became General Motors of Canada. He brought the Redpath with him and kept it. Later Robinson became a contractor, realtor, auto parts agent and city alderman. When he died in 1962 his family restored the Redpath and put it on display at the museum, recently donating it to the permanent collection.
It is among the oldest cars in the museum and has been used for some years as a trade mark appearing on letterhead, business cards and as the symbol for the proposed new Auto Canada museum complex expected to be built this year in Oshawa. The Redpath and 65 other vintage and classic automobiles are on display at the museum, 99 Simcoe St. South Oshawa.
One of a kind: Herb Robinson of Oshawa sits in the 1903 Redpath Messenger which his father Alfred helped build.
Source Sunday Star, February 3, 1980
Kitchener Car is star of auto museum
Oshawa – A Kitchener built automobile, the only one of its kind in the world, has become a part of the permanent collection of the Canadian Automotive Museum.
The car is a 1903 Redpath built by the Redpath Motor Vehicle Co. in a building known as the incubator on Kitchener’s Hall’s Lane. It has been donated to the museum by members of the Alfred Robinson family of Oshawa and designated as cultural property by Ottawa. The exact location of the former Kitchener car factory is uncertain, but it is believed to have operated out of a building on what is now a parking lot behind the Army and Navy store, which fronts on Queen Street South. William Redpath and Andrew Reid of Toronto started the company in 1902. They chose Kitchener (then Berlin) because they felt it was a good place o raise capital for a motor car venture. They did get some support. Local shareholders included T. A. Mclellan, David B. Bowman and George Seiler. The company’s aim was to manufacture a replica of an open French car. Wooden bodies for the Redpath’s were supplied by Alfred Robinson of Toronto, president of A. H. Robinson and Co. makers of bodies, tops and fittings.
The one-cylinder car with rounded hood has a shaft drive and a two speed transmission. Most of the cars of that era had chain drives;IT had a wooden and brass tilt steering wheel, believed to be the first in automotive history. The car weighed about 650 pounds, sold for between $600 and $700 and had a top speed of 10 miles per hour. Canadian automotive historians say the history of the company is blurred almost beyond recognition.
But a few facts are known. The company ran into many problems. Production was hampered from the start by a shortage of skilled mechanics that could handle castings or assemble engines. Ben Uttley, the late Kitchener historian, wrote that “the scrap pile went up and the stock went down” While Redpath and Reid were turning out cars and engaging in experiments, R.R. Olds of Detroit paid a visit to “compare notes.” He had just organized Oldsmobile Co. to make a one cylinder car with a chain drive. After his visit, he abandoned the one-cylinder car and made a two-cylinder and then a four-cylinder car with a shaft drive. Shortly after Olds left, rumours spread that Henry Ford had been here. It was whispered that he might buy an interest in the Redpath Company and move to Kitchener, then Berlin. Years later Ford wrote he didn’t remember being in Kitchener at the turn of the century. The only time he remembers visiting Kitchener was in 1902 when he was on his way to Toronto.
Problems continued at Redpath and just when the company seemed about to fold in 1905, Alfred Robinson, the wooden-body maker in Toronto, took it over and moved it to Toronto. How many Redpaths were made in Kitchener may never be known. Robinson began building cars at 160 Duke St. Toronto, and called them Redpath Messengers. He completed three when the factory was destroyed by fire in 1907. Robinson then moved to Oshawa to become assistant superintendent of the body division of the McLaughlin Motor Car Co., which later became General Motors Canada. He took the one remaining 1903 Redpath to Oshawa and guarded it jealously during his career as a contractor, realtor, auto parts agent and alderman. His son Herb, 73, who inherited the auto parts company which still operates on Richmond St. Oshawa remembers driving the car 59 years ago “its top speed was 10 miles an hour” he said. When Alfred Robinson died in 1962, his family restored the Redpath and put it on display at the museum, recently donating it to the permanent collection. It is the oldest car in the museum and occupies the most prominent position in the two-story building.
The Redpath incorrectly tagged the Redpath Messenger because all 1903 Redpaths were made in Kitchener and not in Toronto, has been used as a trade mark, appearing on letterheads, business cards and as a symbol for the proposed new $3 million Auto Canada museum complex slated to start here this year. The Redpath was one of four cars made in Kitchener in the early 1900s. The others were the LeRoy at king and Water Streets, the Regal on Ottawa Street South and the WelDoer, a cycle car on Benton Street.
Source: Henry Koch – Record Business Editor
REDPATH MESSENGER 1898-1903
Toronto and Berlin-Guelph area
The wooden body was made in Toronto and the running gear assembled near Berlin (Kitchener). Three of the one cylinder 4 cycle machines were produced.
The centrepiece of the show is the vintage Canadian-built 1903 Redpath Messenger. The car, which has been designated cultural property by the Canadian government, was built in Kitchener by the Redpath Motor Vehicle Company.
Company began in Kitchener in 1903.
Moved to Toronto in around 1905.
Three cars were built in Toronto (Redpath Messengers).
Toronto factory destroyed by fire in 1907.
Alfred Robinson (head of the company) moved to Oshawa after the fire.
In Oshawa he began working for the new McLaughlin Motor Car Company.
A Redpath Messenger was restored in 1962 by members of his family.
Source: Cars of Canada book pp. 83-84
Walter Redpath Patents
Smoke Consumer No. 623,426. Patented Apr. 18, 1899
Grate No. 649,478. Patented May 15, 1900
Gasoline Engine CA80460 Apr 21, 1903
Contact Us with missing, additional information or documentation about the Redpath Messenger. Thanks Rob